With the clock ticking, local opposition strengthens against Colorado land-use bill | VailDaily.com

With the clock ticking, local opposition strengthens against Colorado land-use bill

Eagle County governments express frustration over bill’s return to some original requirements

Gov. Jared Polis and Democratic state lawmakers introduced the Land Use bill on Wednesday, March 22, in an effort to address the statewide housing crisis.
Chris Dillmann/Vail Daily Archive

With only a few days left in Colorado’s 2023 legislative session, Eagle County governments are still battling against the sweeping land use bill introduced by Gov. Jared Polis and Colorado Democratic leaders in late March.

“We care deeply about housing and we have for decades. We need partnership and support from the State of Colorado. We do not need Senate Bill 23-213,” wrote Avon Town Manager Eric Heil in an email to the Speaker of the House Rep. Julie McCluskie on Thursday, May 4.

Local municipalities and organizations have expressed concerns over some of the bill’s more controversial elements since it was introduced but had initially softened as the bill went through the Senate and saw some significant amendments. These amendments gutted upzoning requirements as well as most of the requirements for the 15 rural resort communities (including Vail and Avon) contemplated in the bill.

The amendments were the result of governments and organizations across the state working closely with lawmakers and the governor’s office to find a middle ground in the bill. In April, the towns of Vail, Avon and Gypsum as well as the Eagle River Water and Sanitation District were among around 300 individuals that testified in a 12-hour Senate committee hearing.

However, the re-introduction of many of these elements in the House has led to frustrations and rising concerns from these groups.

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Russ Forrest, Vail’s Town Manager, told the Vail Daily on Thursday that the general sentiment among these 15 rural resort communities was that of frustration and disappointment.

This is way too complex of an issue for it to be going this fast and to only have several days left in the session,” he said.

The last-minute amendments proposed in the House led the town of Avon to reverse its position from “oppose unless amended” to a stricter stance, urging for the bill to be killed entirely.

“The town of Avon, along with the other 14 communities of the Colorado Association of Ski Towns that were targeted by this bill have worked in good faith with the bill sponsors and the Governor’s office for the last six weeks, but unfortunately town of Avon cannot support this bill today,” Heil wrote.  

“From the day Senate Bill 23-213 was introduced we all recognized this bill would not do anything to enable, encourage or incentivize housing in our resort communities,” he added.

Specifically, this week the House Transportation, Housing & Local Government committee brought back mandatory upzoning requirements that had been eliminated by the Senate as well as restored other controversial parts of the bill. If the bill clears the House, these amendments would have to be signed off on again by the full Senate.

Heil wrote these amendments undid “nearly all of the revisions our CAST communities had worked so hard on in good faith for the last six weeks,” calling it “beyond disappointing.”

“It was betrayal,” he said.

Heil, in his email to McCluskie, went on to request that the bill be killed to “send a message that effective partnerships and solutions begin with all of us, not by introducing a bill late in the legislative session that imposes top-down legislative mandates on our communities.”

At the very least, Heil requested that requirements and applicability for the 15 rural resort job center municipalities be eliminated from the bill.

Forrest said that while the Vail Town Council hasn’t met or formalized a new stance on the bill’s direction this week, Mayor Kim Langmaid did resend an original letter approved in March by the council. He added that this letter addresses the town’s “concerns related to the original bill, which is where the pendulum has swung again.”

In this letter, the town expresses opposition to the bill without amendments, with one of its primary concerns being it could preclude deed restrictions.

“The only way we create affordable housing is with deed restrictions,” Forrest said.  

Both Avon and Vail are designated as Rural Resort Job Center municipalities in the Senate bill, while other local governments including Eagle and Gypsum are classified under a different tier of the bill. The town of Gypsum has opposed the bill in its entirety since it was introduced.

“The Town of Gypsum remains hopeful that the legislature will come to recognize that this bill isn’t right for Colorado and will kill this bill,” said Town Manager Jeremy Rietmann to the Vail Daily on April 17, 2023.

This opposition was centered on the notion that the bill would restrict local control over land use planning, which has been a right of home-rule municipalities for many decades. It’s a concern shared by the other local municipalities as well.

“It’s important to acknowledge the goal of creating affordable housing is shared, certainly between Vail, Colorado Association of Ski Towns and the state of Colorado,” Forrest said. “I think there’s a common goal, but I think the challenge here is — and I’m hoping senators and representatives have heard that in the public testimony — there certainly is not a one-size-fits-all when it comes to land use and land use decisions.”

These communities believe that this control “belongs at a local level,” Forrest added.

“Housing is too important of an issue for all our communities to pass a flawed, misguided and sweeping package of state mandates in a chaos of amendments that no reasonable person could possibly review and understand in this timeframe. Legislation adopted in haste with the heat of emotion is never good,” Heil wrote.

“Rather, this will become nothing more than a state bureaucratic compliance burden for our communities that will distract from our daily efforts to advance actual housing projects.”

With the Colorado legislature scheduled to adjourn on May 6, 2023, the clock is ticking to see where the bill lands, and what it will include.

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